It goes on all evening, begins in the church parking lot with a tub of lumber set to burn and is full of screaming babies and non-Catholics who watch the rest of us with dazed embarrassment as we kneel, stand, bow, greet and respond.
It is the Easter vigil, and I love it.
The Easter vigil is the liturgy, done large. We plow through the Scriptures, from the Creation to the cross and right on to the resurrection. It is a lesson in where we came from and whither we are tending. It takes us from the garden to the cave where Christ the Risen Lord first revealed HImself.
Jesus didn’t reveal Himself to just anybody that Easter morning. He chose, as He always does, the people who will say yes to Him.
People willing to keep on saying “yes” to Our Lord were few indeed that First Easter. The ignominy of His death hung like fog. He had fallen so low that one of the criminals who died with Him joined the crowds in mocking Him. Crucified — hanging naked between two thieves; tortured, and humiliated on a hill called The Skull — the defeat of their hero seemed absolute.
I don’t think that the women who came that first Easter Sunday were motivated by any residual belief in His messiahship. They came to that grave for the same reason they stayed at the foot of the cross when everyone else ran way: They loved Him.
They loved Him more than they feared the Romans or the Pharisees. They loved Him past any concerns they might have had of being put out of the Temple. They loved Him beyond their natural modesty about seeing a naked man hanging from a cross and right through their repugnance toward what they must have expected to find in that grave: the carrion stink of a body that had been lying dead for three days.
They loved Him with the love of women and they stayed beside Him with the courage of women when the men ran away.
I have worked with 90 men for much of my working life. It has taught me that men have greater physical courage than women. They respond to physical threats more quickly and more aggressively than women. We can do it if we have to, but we have to work ourselves into what comes naturally for men.
On the other hand, women have greater moral courage than men. Women are more willing to stand alone for someone they love than men; much less likely to run away from social approbation and less likely to be bulled by the crowd into going along with something they know is wrong. Men can exhibit the moral courage that comes naturally to women, but they have to work themselves into it.
The women who stood at the cross and who came to His grave were teachers to the men in those days of His death and resurrection. They were showing them the kind of moral courage it would take to build His Church.
It is no surprise that He revealed Himself as the Risen Lord to women first. They were the ones who said yes.
It is also no surprise that the first Apostle was a woman. Mary Magdalene was the one He chose to carry the good news of His resurrection to “Peter and the others.” She was His Apostle of the Good News, signifying forever that women are co-inheritors of eternal life and purveyors and proclaimers of the Gospels the same as men.
The human race is not male. The human race is not female. The human race is male and female, created each and every one of us in the image and likeness of the living God.
Jesus may have created the priesthood male, but He did not put women outside the circle of grace. He did not intend for women to be passive witnesses to the on-going drama of Kingdom building. He meant for them to be at the heart of it.
I was disturbed by the callous misogyny and easy patronizing of women that I encountered in the comboxes of a blog I wrote a few days ago. As usual when something upsets me, I talked it over with my husband. He gave me wise advice that you will see acted out on this blog in the next few days. He also made an observation that I think bears repeating today: People who hate women, hate humanity, he said.
Misogyny is a lie and lies are always the devil’s first weapon against us. Misogyny is a curse enacted on all of humanity. It is the first curse of the Fall. Misogyny is the human race, warring against itself. It is us, attacking our own life-bearers.
Cultural misogyny made Jesus’ choice of messengers a compelling statement. In those days, the testimony of women was not legitimate testimony. Yet the scriptures rely on it in the Gospel description of Jesus’ burial. “Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb, watching,” it says. Women are the witnesses cited for this most important event in human history.
Jesus first revealed HImself as the Messiah to a woman, and not just any woman, but a member of the outcast Samaritan tribe; a sinful much-married woman who was living with a man who was not her husband. She came to the well to draw water alone instead of with the other women, probably because they thought her so disreputable that they wanted nothing to do with her. This sinful woman was the first one to whom He revealed that He was the Messiah, the son of the living God.
The Disciples’ reaction was typical then — and now — they “were surprised that He was talking with a woman.”
So, there is a symmetry and a message in the Risen Lord revealing Himself first to a woman, and the choice of Mary Magdalene to tell “Peter and the others” of His resurrection.
“Those who are forgiven much, love much,” he said. Many people believe that Mary Magdalene was the woman who was taken in adultery. Whether this is true or not, there is no doubt that she loved much
This woman was the Apostle to the Apostles. The first bearer of the Good News that is the fulcrum of human history. On that first Easter morning, she was the first and the only Apostle.
Women are human beings, made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus came for women as much as He came for men. He died for women as well as men. He gave the Eucharist to women as well as men.
He instituted the priesthood to serve all of humankind, young and old, weak and strong, sinners and saints, men, and yes, women. That is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets we read in the Easter vigil.
It is the snake, the old dragon misogyny, crushed beneath His foot.